EGELAND, N.D. — She hunkers in the middle of a grassy field on the windswept prairie, her body heat warming a shallow bowl filled with fragile eggs. If she’s lucky enough to remain hidden from predators — skunks, foxes, raccoons, opossums and others with a taste for duck eggs — for 24 days and 24 nights, her brood of downy ducklings will hatch.
It’s the springtime cycle of life for a duck on the breeding grounds of the Prairie Pothole Region, an area that encompasses the Dakotas and southern Canada where 70 percent of North America’s ducks are born.
Through a unique project this year, Delta Waterfowl is giving you a live window into the nest of a wild duck with the Delta Duck Cam (www.deltawaterfowl.org/duckcam). Outdoor apparel maker Sitka Gear has provided sponsorship for the Delta Duck Cam project.
Currently, the star of the show is Pintail 004, a hen northern pintail that might have spent last winter in the rice fields of Arkansas or on the Texas Gulf Coast, but now is at her spring and summer home near Egeland, N.D.
Delta Waterfowl’s wildlife technicians set up the camera on May 16. Pintail 004 has eight eggs, and provided no marauding predator finds the nest, the ducklings should hatch in about 12 days.
But the odds are against Pintail 004. Previous Delta research in the area has shown nest success to be about 5 percent. Anything can happen.
“In my opinion, what takes place on the breeding grounds of the Prairie Pothole Region — exactly what it takes to make a nest, raise ducklings and avoid predators — is a complete mystery to most people,” said Joel Brice, Delta’s vice president of conservation. “The thought has always been that, if we could just bring people here to see it for themselves, they’d be more passionate about the support they give to wildlife. Through this unique project, we can do that.”
Whether Pintail 004’s nest is destroyed, abandoned or hatches, Delta researcher Mike Buxton, who received a Masters Degree from Louisiana State University, will be first to the scene to relocate the camera to another viable nest. Because of the different timing of nesting for various duck species throughout spring and into summer, the Delta Duck Cam could potentially last through July. Although the camera currently is pointed at a pintail, viewers could see the nests of northern shovelers, mallards, gadwalls, lesser scaup and blue-winged teal.
From different ducks to plentiful dangers to the very changing of the seasons, the Delta Duck Cam promises to shed light on a fascinating aspect of the duck world few people have ever seen.